County Transportation Projects Reviewed

SALISBURY – County leaders urged state transportation officials this week to prioritize Wicomico’s list of requested projects.

On Tuesday, Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) officials met virtually with the Wicomico County Council and state representatives to present the draft Consolidated Transportation Program (CTP) for fiscal years 2021-2026.

Each year, MDOT meets with each county in the state to share its proposed six-year capital budget for transportation projects. MDOT Secretary Gregory Slater told local officials this week the planning document not only reflects the agency’s priorities for the coming years, but it’s budget challenges.

“Every department of MDOT took a hit in the six-year capital budget and the FY21 operating budget, with a reduction of $1.9 billion in capital cuts and another $98 million in operating cuts that will really be felt statewide,” he said. “Every single cut we made weighed heavily on us as we focused on keeping this transportation network moving and safe for our customers and employees.”

Slater told county officials this week that the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in major declines in the use of transportation services. For example, in mid-April – during the peak of Maryland’s stay-at-home order – traffic volumes were down 51%, toll transactions were down 58% and travel at Baltimore/Washington International Airport was down 97%.

“While these numbers are starting to come back, the current six-year draft CTP estimates that trust fund revenues across the board are down, from our gas tax to our titling revenues, as well as our operating revenues across the departments,” he said.

With capital projects totaling $13.4 billion over the next six years, Slater said MDOT would focus its efforts on maintaining infrastructure and planning for the future.

“The draft CTP will be key to not only how we navigate these reduced revenues, but make critical investments that will be at the core of helping us rebuild in this recovery,” he said. “The draft CTP, I can assure you, is a direct result of some very tough decisions and a direct result of these drastic reductions in revenue from travel.”

State Highway Administrator Tim Smith said Eastern Shore residents could expect changes in grass maintenance and project development as a result of revenue contraints.

“We focused on continuing our maintenance and construction activities,” he said. “But as a result, that meant some projects would have to be delayed at certain phases from a planning and design perspective. Also, we tended to focus our available operating resources on safety and mobility of our system, so that has resulted in fewer mowing cycles and less litter pickup.”

Smith, however, noted several ongoing and completed projects in Wicomico County. For example, the State Highway Administration recently completed a $3 million improvement project at the intersection of Route 50 and White Lowe Road and is currently working on a $9 million drainage project along Salisbury Boulevard.

“We were still able to deliver some great projects,” he said.

Each year, the county submits a priority letter of requested improvements for the state’s CTP. This year, the county’s list includes the replacement of aging airport infrastructure, the relocation of a truck weigh station and a feasibility study of the Salisbury, among other things.

Despite the state’s revenue constraints, Councilman John Cannon urged MDOT officials to consider the county’s requests.

“We are always trying to make improvements at our airport, which is very important to the county …,” he said. “I know the weigh station is also in our letter as one of those priorities, as well as bypass feasibility studies. That’s some of the county’s requests, and you also see many requests by the municipalities as well. We only ask that you continue to give that your consideration.”

State Senator Addie Eckardt agreed, highlighting the county’s request for capital improvements at the airport.

“It’s so very important,” she said, “and that’s laying the groundwork for where we will be in the future.”

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.